What the UM Pension Board Gets Wrong on Fossil Fuels

The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits recently published a pamphlet arguing that continuing to invest in and profit from the fossil fuel industry will bring wealth to the poor, contribute to global peace and stability, and effectively address the climate crisis. We so strongly disagree that we've put together a pamphlet of our own to counter their claims point-by-point.

Here are some of the key issues United Methodists need to understand:


On shareholder advocacy...

GBPHB says: 

We are actively engaged in ongoing dialogue about climate change with the world's largest publicly-traded oil, gas and electric utility companies.

Fossil Free UMC says:

Shareholder engagement can't work. Scientists say that the majority of the world's fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. That goes against the core business model of fossil fuel companies. This isn't like asking Nike to stop making shoes in sweatshops. It's like asking Nike to stop making shoes.

What's more, despite great effort, there is no track record of success. 20 years of shareholder advocacy has not yielded any direct reductions in the production of fossil fuels. 


exploding oil rig from flickr creative commons

On who will solve the climate crisis...

GBPHB says:

Fossil fuel companies must be part of the climate change solution.

Fossil Free UMC says:

Fossil fuel companies are moving away from clean energy rather than toward it. The major oil players are selling off their sustainable energy assets to invest further in exploration. They compensate their leadership based on increasing fossil fuel extraction. They are also attacking state renewable energy policies because renewable energy is a threat to the fossil fuel business and the billions that companies have invested in exploration and extraction. And they continue to bankroll climate denial lobby groups. The major fossil fuel companies have no intention of being part of the climate change solution.


On logic...

GBPHB says:

Reliance on carbon-based fuels is deeply embedded in our society... It is illogical to rely on a fossil fuels-based infrastructure... while advocating for the divestment of the companies that provide those services.

Fossil Free UMC says:

Ending investments in fossil fuel companies is a crucial step in the transition to a low-carbon future. All consumers need access to better choices for sustainable energy and transportation. For example, 90% of Americans would prefer to use solar and wind power over fossil fuel energy. When we realize that our energy infrastructure is causing irreversible sea level rise, mega storms, and mass extinction, it is illogical (and immoral) to continue to invest in and profit from that infrastructure. Clergy, missionaries and lay leaders worldwide are serving on the front lines of climate change as they address disaster recovery efforts, poverty, hunger and disease. It doesn't make sense to undermine their work by funding their pensions with profits from the companies that are wreaking havoc on their ministries.


On fossil fuels and poverty...

GBPHB says:

Fossil fuels play a critical role in providing access to energy for the world's poorest citizens.

Fossil Free UMC says:

The world's poorest citizens feel the impacts of climate change more deeply than anyone else. The church should invest in sustainable energy infrastructure in developing nations rather than saddling them with energy solutions that have no future in a sustainable world.


On world peace...

GBPHB says:

There are geo-political ramifications inherent in transitioning from an economy reliant on fossil fuels--we must be cognizant of and address them... Adopting an approach that ignores these geo-political issues could have dramatic negative impacts on today's world order.

Fossil Free UMC says:

The UMC's investments in fossil fuels neither contribute to world peace, nor to global economic stability. However, political instability caused by climate change is a leading risk factor for corporations adapting to changing climate conditions. 


                  coal anthracite

On the new coal policy...

GBPHB says:

We have implemented a leading-edge climate change investment guideline to help us navigate the impacts of a lower-carbon global economy.

Fossil Free UMC says:

GBPHB continues to invest in coal. We celebrate that the GBPHB has reduced investments in coal, but the new policy still allows for some coal investment, particularly in developing nations that lack environmental regulations. 


On the new ESVP fund to address environmental concerns...

GBPHB says:

We launched the Equity Social Values Plus Fund (ESVP) in December 2014.

Fossil Free UMC says:

The Equities Social Values Plus Fund contains 22 of the top 100 oil and gas companies. It is not an environmentally-friendly investment option for United Methodists. 


On fiduciary duty...

GBPHB says:

GBPHB is a "fiduciary." This means we are required by law to act exclusively in the financial best interests of the 91,000 active and retired clergy and lay employees of the UMC and its affiliates.

Fossil Free UMC says:

The GBPHB can legally create a fossil fuel investment screen. While GBPHB is a fiduciary, it operates within the context of a religious institution. The Establishment Clause of the US Constitution (otherwise known as separation of church and state), creates space for a church's values to shape its investments (see Basich v. Board of Pensions, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 540 N.W.2d 82 (1995). This is why we can screen profitable industries like tobacco from our investments.

What's more, portfolios that screen fossil fuels can perform as well or better than portfolios containing fossil fuels. The volatility of the fossil fuel industry makes it an increasingly unstable area for investment.